By Emma Stark and John Lynch
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
For the fourth time, the Trump administration wants to cut funding for the programs that are fighting to restore the Chesapeake Bay.
“What’s interesting about the budget cuts is, the Chesapeake Bay Program has received $73 million in funding,” said Kristin Reilly, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “Up until last year, we were able to increase that to $85 million.”
The budget for the 2021 fiscal year proposed slashing the program’s funding down to $7.3 million, a 91% cut from the last year. This included an overall 26% cut to Environmental Protection Agency funding.
In President Trump’s first year in office, he called to completely eliminate the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program’s funding and in the last two years, he proposed 90% cuts to funding.
Award-winning environmental journalist Tom Pelton spoke last week about how there is a lack of clarity not only in the Chesapeake Bay but also in people’s understanding of the bay.
“There seems to be a real lack of clarity about the lack of clarity,” Pelton said.
The Chesapeake Bay is home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals. The bay runs from New York down to Virginia. As a large body of water, scientists said it is important that the pollution levels stay low to protect its wildlife. However, the water quality score remains at a depressing 47/100, officials said.
“So you have states like Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia receiving funding to install on the ground restoration projects that are cleaning the streams, providing habitats, beautifying neighborhoods,” said Reilly. “And all of that will disappear.”
Reilly, as director, said the coalition aims to support government policy that will benefit clean water and act as a convener to help nonprofits work together.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan pledged to lead a successful bipartisan push to protect federal funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration in a press release responding to the proposed budget cuts.
“While the Trump administration continues to turn its back on the Bay, we will keep fighting to protect one of our most precious natural assets,” said Hogan.
Out of their 250 members across the watershed, Reilly said that a third of those organizations receive funds from the Chesapeake Bay Program to install restoration projects.
“They are the boots-on-the-ground people that receive that money and do that hard work and a lot of our members would be severely affected by this,” said Reilly. “Also, the local rivers and streams are going to get affected because they aren’t going to have that maintenance. There won’t be any new projects. There won’t be any more stream restoration. There won’t be any more flood mitigation, and it’s really a lose-lose for everybody.”
Pelton said that one of the biggest contributors to the pollution of the bay is farming and lack of cattle fencing. Farms that do not put fences along the edge of their property leading into the bay are allowing the cattle to wade into the water stirring up the mud and depositing all sorts of bacteria from their bodies as well as from their feces.
One of the most important creatures to live in the bay is the oyster, he said. It is the oyster that filters the water to help keep it clean, but they can only do so much.
When the cattle stirs up the mud on the bottom of the bay, the sediments flow through the bay and create a muddy environment that the oysters cannot thrive in, he said. The sediment also covers the oysters smothering them and keeping them from being able to do their job.
Along with the issue of the pollution of the bay, there is also the issue of over-harvesting the oysters. About 130 years ago, flags were raised about the over harvesting of oysters and how it was negatively affecting the bay, but nothing was done about it.
Pelton said there is only one-third of 1% the original oyster population left.
“Where is the hope,” said Baltimore resident Karen Morrissey.
Supporters stress the hope comes from the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is a unique, regional partnership that is governed by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. The agreement has goals and outcomes that cover “everything from environmental literacy, to oysters,” said Rachel Felver, communications director for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
The program is the one guiding restoration of the Chesapeake Bay through science, cutting-edge technology, shared data and effective policies.
“One of the critical things to know is that the Bay program has been helping to foster one of the biggest, most collaborative approaches to ecosystem restoration ever undertaken,” said Jenn Aiosa, executive director at Blue Water Baltimore.
Blue Water Baltimore utilizes the Chesapeake Bay Program as a critical source of data and information and implements that to work to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers and streams.
“Significantly cutting funding from such a program could be very impactful to the long-term success of these collective efforts,” Aiosa said.
Despite pollution growing, Pelton insisted there is hope for the bay. Regulations on farms, sewage plants, and other pollutants are the best bet for helping save the Chesapeake Bay.
“Vote,” was Pelton’s advice to anyone who asked what the best thing they could do for the environment.
Voting for leaders and laws that promote the health of the environment is the best way to improve the world we live in, he said. It is those votes that will keep everyone “pulling in the same direction,” said Pelton.
Every year, the Clean Water Coalition schedules a day to bring its 250 members to Washington D.C., to meet with their members of Congress and talk about the importance of funding. A week ago Wednesday was that day, just weeks after the proposed 26% budget cut to the EPA.
Reilly said they have support from members of Congress, but this is the fourth time that the Trump administration has proposed budget cuts of 90% or greater to the Chesapeake Bay Program.
“Across the board it feels like the environmentalists are under attack,” said Patricia Watson, Towson University Office of Sustainability member. “And they shouldn’t be because everyone needs the environment.”